Today, Friday the 23 of September, exactly ten years after the imprisonment of the journalist and writer Dawit Isaak, Nobel Prize Laureates Herta Muller and Mario Vargas Llosa, together with the President of PEN International, John Ralston Saul, the President of PEN Sweden, Ola Larsmo and the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Peter Englund, manifested their support for their colleague Dawit Isaak and demanded his release from prison in Eritrea. The manifestation took place at the Goteborg Book Fair.
Today we are commemorating a dismal date. On 23 September 2001 Dawit Isaak was imprisoned together with several of his colleagues at the journal Setit. This happened as the Eritrean government clamped down on several independent media in the country. Isaak's situation has slowly but steadily deteriorated since then. He has for some years now been prisoner number 36 in the infamous death camp Eira Eiro where many of co-prisoners have died from maltreatment. It is also said that a number of them have committed suicide. To the best of our knowledge, Dawit Isaak is still alive - but his health has gradually become weaker.
Eritrea has become one of the world's most isolated countries. The reason is clearly the policies of president Afwerki's regime, directed at his own population. Eritrea is rich in natural resources and has the potential to prosper. But the country closes its borders to the outside world and those who want to contribute to its development are kept in prison by a government that has exploited the country's independence for its own purposes rather than for the good of its citizens. Very little is needed for Eritrea to receive support from the international community so that it can begin to develop. All that is required is for the government to release its political prisoners. However, the current rulers have refused to discuss this.
The Swedish government and its Ministy for foreign affairs have for ten years conducted their quiet diplomacy on behalf of the Swedish citizen Dawit Isaak. Much hard work has gone into the attempts at getting Isaak released. This we know. But we are also saying that it is now time to break the silence. We expect a much clearer policy from the Swedish government and from the EU. An active foreign policy should now replace quiet diplomacy. Dawit Isaak cannot wait another ten years.
As an absolute minimum, the Swedish government and the EU executive must demand that a delegation from the International Red Cross be allowed to visit Eira Eiro and give Isaak and his colleagues the medical treatment they need for their survival. If Eritrea refuses, the EU must examine every possible means to impose sanctions not only on Eritrea but on those businesses and countries that still cooperate with the regime.
We call for new methods and renewed commitment from Swedish and European authorities. This is for the sake of Dawit Isaak as well as to demonstrate that our pledge to defend the freedom of expression is more than a rhetorical decoration with no political substance. It is also the credibility of the EU that is at stake here - which should be apparent to all.
Jesper Bengtsson, Reporters without Borders (Sweden)
Peter Englund, The Swedish Academy
Herta Muller, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2009
Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010
John Ralston Saul, president of PEN International
Ola Larsmo, president of the Swedish PEN